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Head of McGill University meets with Quebec premier to discuss controversial tuition hike

Deep Saini, McGill University's president, speaks to reporters after a meeting with Premier Francois Legault on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (CTV News) Deep Saini, McGill University's president, speaks to reporters after a meeting with Premier Francois Legault on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (CTV News)
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The head of McGill University said Monday he came out of a "productive" meeting with Premier François Legault to discuss the school's concerns about a proposed tuition hike for students from outside of Quebec.

"It went well. We had a frank discussion. We touched on all the issues that are of concern to McGill," Deep Saini, McGill's president, told reporters on his way out.

It was Saini's first meeting with Legault since November, and, while he didn't divulge any specifics about the meeting, he said he was "optimistic" about the way forward. The premier was also joined by Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry at the meeting. 

"We're hoping that [the discussions] will continue. We will continue to work with the government and see how we can produce the best results for Quebec," Saini said. 

That optimism comes after bleak figures were presented by the head of McGill about what the tuition increase will do the renowned Quebec institution — in November, he said the new policy will result in up to $94 million in losses, as well as hundreds of job cuts, reductions in sports teams, and suspensions of major infrastructure projects.

At Concordia University, officials say applications from out-of-province students are already down by about 30 per cent. Last week, thousands of Concordia students voted to hold a three-day strike to protest the controversial measure.

Advisory committee calls on Quebec to 'reconsider'

The Quebec government is planning to increase tuition for students from the rest of Canada from about $9,000 to $12,000 in the 2024-2025 school year. Under the plan, universities could lose their funding if 80 per cent of out-of-province students do not reach level five on the Quebec scale of French-language proficiency by the end of their undergraduate degree program.

The Legault government is still going ahead with the policies despite a government-mandated committee formally advising against it. The Comité consultatif sur l'accessibilité financière aux études (CCAFE) wrote to Minister Déry on Jan. 19 asking her to "reconsider" the new measure because, in their view, it serves as a barrier to quality education for some students and because it runs "counter to the principles of inclusion and equity that our committee promotes."

"In the Committee's view, the decision to increase tuition fees for non-Quebec resident Canadians seems unjustified and risks compromising access to quality education and depriving society of potential talent," the letter states.

"While the need to fund education is indisputable, it is imperative to find solutions that do not adversely affect the accessibility, diversity and attractiveness of Quebec's educational institutions."

The president of the committee, Eric Tessier, said in an interview Monday that the tuition hike was "impossible to endorse" and that the decision was unanimous among the committee's members.

"For us, it's bad, because McGill and Concordia will be more expensive than [anywhere] else in Canada, first. It's also bad because $3,000 per year on a budget for a student of 19, 20, 21 or 22 years old, for example, it's very big," Tessier said.

He said if there is a need to rethink how universities are funded, students should not bear the brunt of whatever decision is made.

Tessier said he has not yet received a response to the committee's letter from Déry's office, noting that the letter was sent past the deadline for the committee to send an opinion. The Ministry of Education, ultimately, does not need to follow CCAFE's advice.

The province said the tuition hike is needed at English-language universities in order to step the decline of French in Montreal and that the money it gets from the increase will be redistributed throughout the French-language university network. 

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